Much ado about nothing

Day of Action good for the party, but not much else

Natalie Dyck

“... the demonstrators in Miami were a useless mob of ignorant chicken-shit ego-junkies whose only accomplishment was to embarrass the whole tradition of public protest. They were hopelessly disorganized, they had no real purpose in being there.”
—Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ‘72

The Day of Action, an institution of student politics on campus, has come and gone for another year. We are neither richer nor poorer for it.

True, we’ve seen a shift in intent in 2009 from years prior; with the tuition freeze lifted, it seems – for now at least – that the Canadian Federation of Students has abandoned its campaign to lower tuition fees. I always questioned the logic of this campaign (Manitoba undergrads pay the third-lowest tuition fees in Canada, less than 70 per cent of the national average), but I still turned out because it seemed like a lot of fun.

In fact, last year I remember being part of an attempt to bum-rush the office of some MLA (exactly whose I can’t recall – it didn’t seem important) in order to stage a good ol’ fashioned sit-in. I wound up sitting at the side entrance of the Legislature in frigid November temperatures while security barred the door and someone distributed communist newsletters. Good times.

This year, as I said, saw a bit of a change. The war cry this time around was not “Lower Tuition Fees” but “Target Poverty.” Protesters gathered at the Legislature to hear various speakers demand that the province “take concrete action to cut poverty rates by 25 per cent over the next five years.”

Of course, when standing on the steps of the Legislature with the protesters, speakers could barely (read: not) be heard over the din. Most of the crowd’s reactions were initiated by some Pavlovian impulse to cheer every time a speaker raised their voice, or paused for effect.

Not that hearing whoever held the megaphone particularly mattered. When one stepped back from the mob, it became obvious that, as in previous years, talking points were largely interchangeable between speakers. Thye were mostly feel-good anthems that everyone could sing along to: Fix Education. Stop Poverty. End Racism. Abolish Capitalism. More Nice. Turn Up the Good. Turn Down the Suck.

Fair enough. I’ll go out on a limb and assume that no one is arguing that poverty and racism are good things, or that we need more of both. Curious, however, was the lack of any concrete policy alternatives to achieve the stated goals of the protest. There’s no shortage of plans, either. When it comes to post-secondary, I myself am a decrease-student-loan-interest-rates-while-increasing-accessibility-to-loans man, but I’m open to suggestions. I would assume the government is as well, if the plans are well-structured and reasonable, rather than a general “fix poverty or fuck off.”

But in the light of a lack of any specific plan, I feel that one hand-painted sign at the periphery of the crowd summarized the day quite clearly. It read, “Abstract Concept.”

The fifth of November has held the spirit of rebellion and protest ever since Guy Fawkes’ clandestine mission to blow up the British Parliament. This fifth of November, in downtown Winnipeg, there was pizza. There were pancakes. Despite cooler temperatures, spirits remained high. There was music in the morning and a parade in the afternoon. The fantastic sound of chanting and war-drums could be heard from a block away.

All in all, it was a damn good party, but that’s about it.

Rob Holt strongly suggests the day of action be re-schedueled to a warmer month, connections with Fawkes’ homicidal mission be damned.

Published in Volume 64, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 12, 2009)

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